For forty days Jesus was tempted by Satan. No spoiler alert here; as you can guess, he passed all three parts of the test with flying colors.
Part 1: Satan tells Jesus, “If you’re the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread” (4:3). Lest the point is lost on us, Matthew reminds us that Jesus has been fasting for 40 days and “he was hungry” (4:2). I should say so. If I miss my mid-morning snack I’m hangry enough to make some bad food decisions. Surely Jesus’ mouth watered a little at the thought of breaking his fast with some flaky, crusty, crumbly bread.
Jesus doesn’t give in, though. Eugene Boring suggests that we might doubly admire this, because Matthew is careful to record that this regards “loaves,” plural. This might be a temptation to solve not just Jesus’ hunger, but everyone’s hunger. Jesus certainly shows a heart for that when he fed 5,000 and then 4,000 at once.
But no: “man does not live by bread alone” (4:4).
Part 2: Satan comes in next by pointing to a high spot on the Temple and saying, “If you’re the Son of God, go up there and throw yourself down – isn’t it written that the angels will protect you?” (4:6). Jesus has a chance to get God’s full attention, like a child who fakes crying or an adult who fakes hurt feelings.
But no: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (4:7).
Part 3: Satan has one last move, and this one puts literally everything on the line. Sara and Jesus sit on a high mountain and look at all the kingdoms of the world. Satan puts an arm around Jesus and whispers into his ear the final temptation: “Worship me, and I’ll give it all to you” (4:9).
Talk about the easy way out. No cross, no betrayal, no torture. Just worship Satan and be done.
But no: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and only him shall you serve” (4:10).
At that, the devil gives up and moves on. Angels rush in and take care of Jesus. The 40 days in the wilderness are complete. Where Israel failed in the wilderness – giving in to the temptations of hunger and lesser “gods” – Jesus has succeeded. Let there be no doubt, Jesus is no mere mortal; Jesus is the Son of God, and he has the willpower to prove it.
What about us?
We’re surrounded with temptations; no need to go out into the wilderness for 40 days to invite them. They come in the form of food and money and shiny things. They show up as people that we think about more than we should and people we think about less than we should. The temptations we face don’t respect any boundaries. They aren’t restricted to our actions; they invade our thoughts. And when they do, we prove that we are no Sons or Daughters of God. We don’t have the willpower of Jesus Christ. We are hungry and prideful and want the easy way out.
Through Jesus, there’s hope for us.
The Jesus who was strong enough to resist will be there to back us up. Jesus faced the greatest temptations in rapid fire after a 40-day fast. When we pray to Jesus to help us with our temptations, Jesus knows exactly how we feel. Jesus knows just what to give us, how to reinforce us. We can turn to Jesus for help when we are tempted.
But we shouldn’t wait until the last minute. We can build our defenses against temptations by following Jesus’ example – we can engrave important passages of Scripture on our hearts.
Jesus’ three responses to Satan’s temptations are pretty well known. Did you know that they aren’t his original creations? Each one of them is a quotation of Scripture – specifically the book of Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 8:3 is Moses telling the Israelites, “God humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
Deuteronomy 6:16 is Moses reminding the Israelites to learn from their lack of faith that came from a lack of water: “Do not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”
Deuteronomy 6:13 is Moses’ foundational instruction that “The LORD your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.”
When Jesus faced temptation, Scripture gave him the irrefutable answers. When we face temptations, Scripture can give us the footing to stand our ground. I’ve personally found this to be true… although the book of Deuteronomy is not my first choice.
The first passage I learned to rely on like this was Philippians 4:13, Paul’s declaration that “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” When I need reinforcing, when I lack the strength to stand up like I need to, I repeat this line over and over to myself.
Another that’s served me well is the Lord’s Prayer. You can find it in Matthew 6:9-15, although I tend to recite the version we use in church. Right in the middle there’s this helpful line: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
A new one for me is Philippians 2:3. Many of my temptations have to do with how I think about other people, or feeling lazy when I see a chance to help someone. So I repeat to myself: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”
These forty days of Lent are bound to include some temptation for you. Maybe you know what temptation to expect because you’ve intentionally given something up, like sweets or Facebook. But even if you haven’t “fasted” from anything, these forty days will involve temptations, because life presents us with temptations every day, all the time.
When you feel tempted to act in ways that align more with Satan than with God, turn to Jesus for reinforcements. He’s been there, after all. And even before the temptations come up, get ready by memorizing Scripture that you can bring to mind when you need it most.
We are surrounded by temptations… but even more, we are surrounded by the Holy Spirit given to us by the One who was tempted and resisted.
Eugene Boring’s commentary on Matthew in The New International Bible Commentary
Craddock and Boring’s The People’s New Testament Commentary